It's time to tip off the basketball season in Columbia County.
The transition of prep sports seasons marks the end of football and the start of the court campaign, and there's going to be plenty of talent in the county this basketball season.
As a primer for the 2003-04 year, here's a preview of Columbia County's boys teams, and a look at the top players from each squad. Additionally, I'll offer season outlooks, and tap the performers who could warm things up during the winter months.
Head coach: Richie Carnes
Last season: 5-20
Projected starters: Alex Bragg (6-5), center; Will Lavery (6-1), center; Philip Sadler (5-7), guard; Matt Scott (6-3), guard; Jeremy VanValkenburgh (5-11), guard.
Other key players: Jarrod Bradley; Alex Fain; Earl McCrommon.
Season outlook: Scott is Lakeside's leading man, but VanValkenburgh can play too. These are secrets of success for the Panthers - playing together, which they didn't always do last season, rebounding and interior defense.
Lakeside's lack of size won't help, but I expect to see a much improved team this season.
Head coach: Marty Griffin
Last season: 20-8
Projected starters: Mark Herrmann (6-5), forward; Jamal Womble (6-5), forward; Adam McKinney (6-3), guard; Warren Chapman (6-0), guard; Dan Wiley (6-1), guard.
Other key players: Josh Adams; Chris Curl; Israel Machovec; Kyle Redd.
Season outlook: The Lions are going for an amazing eighth-straight Region 4-AAA championship. With four starters returning, including all-region performer Warren Chapman and strong inside player Jamal Womble; there is no reason to think AC won't win region again this season. AC has great size, but there is a lack of depth in the backcourt. Still, first-year coach Marty Griffin should lead the Lions deep into the Georgia Independent School Association state playoffs.
Head coach: Kevin Furtado
Last season: 11-16
Projected starters: Robert Sussman (6-4), center; Taylor Bird (6-0), forward; Thomas Folk (5-9), forward; Glen Miller (5-10), guard; Patrick Welch (5-11), guard.
Other key players:Michael Crosland; Aaron Crais; Clint Luckey; Alex Murphy.
Season outlook: The Cavaliers have a legitimate all-region performer in Miller, plus Prep has experienced returnees in Welch, Bird and Folk. Lack of size is going to be a problem, but the Cavs could post a winning record this season.
Head coach: Kevin Kenny
Last season: 10-14
Projected starters: Kyle Ellington (5-10), guard; Kenny Garnett (6-1), guard; Hank McCladdie (6-4), forward; Mike Armstrong (6-4), forward; Ricky Crawford (6-5), center.
Other key players: Jason Torres; Tommy Maddox; Matt Hebbard; Josh Jennell (Jennell is out with a knee injury, but the leading scorer from last season will return to action soon).
Season outlook: Evans lost three-time All-County performer John Harris to graduation, and the Knights play in an extremely difficult region, but I like the makeup of this team. Ellington had a great summer and could be a player to keep an eye on in Columbia County. Also, Garnett is a great shooter, and that talent could make him a 15 to 16 points per game scorer.
When Jennell is healthy, he will combine with Garnett and McCladdie to give the Knights some offensive punch. Evans will benefit from size and experience this season, which has potential to be a very good court campaign.
Head coach: Kim Chambers
Last season: 8-18
Projected starters: Jon Rickerson (5-11), guard; Will Smith (5-10), guard; Tim Camp (6-1), forward; Patrick Mott (6-2), forward; William Hawkins (6-4), center.
Other key players: Sonjay Boyd; Chris Bowman; Simon Rosenbauer; Foster Moore; Michael Morris (Morris is a transfer from Cross Creek and will be eligible after Christmas break).
Season outlook: The past few seasons it seems Harlem have tread water until late in the season, and then turn it up a notch down the home stretch. That same scenario could play out this season. The loss of key performers Kelvin Sturgis, David Green and Joey Shiver will make for a tough adjustment, but the Bulldogs did get a boost by the addition of Mott, who formerly lived in Alabama. Also, Camp and Rickerson can do a little bit of everything on the hardwood.
Head coach: Casey Dees
Last season: 18-6
Projected starters: Ray Jones (6-0), guard; Ryan Wallace (5-8), guard; Matthew Todd (6-3), guard/forward; Gavin Globensky (6-4), center; Rich Poythress (6-3), forward.
Note: Several players will be joining the squad after the completion of the football season, including Eugene Rogers, Reggie Rice and J.C. Jennings. These three will likely crack the starting lineup when once they get their basketball legs.
Other key players: A.J. Lavergne; Will Appling; Michael Hazlett; Chedric McEldery.
Season outlook: The one positive thing for new head coach Casey Dees is that he arrived one season after superstar Eric Marshall graduated - at least Dees doesn't have to lament the loss of the two-time Columbia County player of the year. With Marshall gone, the Wolfpack may struggle early, but I like their chances when Rogers and Jennings join the squad. Greenbrier is not blessed with great outside shooters, but the Pack has as many good athletes as any team around. With Jones, Rogers, Rice and Jennings, Greenbrier should be able to run the court, and when you throw in a hard-nosed player like Poythress, nobody will push the Pack around this season.
Preseason All-County team
First team (best players regardless of position)
Matt Scott: The Lakeside guard possesses big-time talent. He averaged nearly 27 points per game last season, and he will surely nail down a Division I scholarship. Scott should end his career at the county's all-time leading scorer.
Eugene Rogers: Rogers should be loaded with confidence after such a stellar showing with the Greenbrier football team this year. The junior is athletic, tough and he is a leader. Rogers may not pour in 20 points a night, but he will be very valuable this season at the Brierpatch.
Josh Jennell: The Evans guard is an underrated player. Jennell averaged double figures in scoring last season while competing in one of the best basketball regions in the state. When Jennell gets over his current knee problems, he will lead the Knights.
Warren Chapman: As a sophomore last season, Chapman averaged around 14 points per game, and he's going to be even better as a junior. Chapman is an all-state candidate, and could help the Lions reach the final four.
J.C. Jennings: Maturity is the key for the Greenbrier junior. Jennings has the physical ability to take over games with defense and rebounding. If he keeps his focus, the sky's the limit.
Second team: Ray Jones, Greenbrier; Kenny Garnett, Evans; Jamal Womble, Augusta Christian; Hank McCladdie, Evans; Rich Poythress, Greenbrier.
Honorable mention: Augusta Christian - Mark Herrmann, Dan Wiley; Augusta Prep - Glen Miller, Patrick Welch; Evans - Kyle Ellington; Lakeside - Philip Sadler, Jeremy VanValkenburgh; Harlem - Tim Camp, Jon Rickerson, Patrick Mott.
Preseason Player of the Year
Matt Scott, Lakeside
This may be my easiest preseason Player of the Year selection since I've been doing Columbia County basketball previews.
Scott is coming off a junior campaign in which he average 26.8 points and nine rebounds per game. His rebounding numbers attest to his leaping ability, but his best asset is shooting. Scott could be the best pure shooter to ever play in Columbia County, and he is among the best the CSRA has ever produced, and that includes former Westside and Duke University star William Avery, who wound up being a high NBA draft choice.
This past summer was very important for Scott in two ways: first, he worked hard to improve his defense, which was one of his only weaknesses; he also drew some publicity by garnering all-star honors at the prestigious 5-Star Camp in Pennsylvania.
But Scott did more than just make the camp's all-star team - he was named MVP for leading his squad to the all-star championship.
Recruiting guru Howard Garfinkel, who ran the 5-Star camp and is one of the most respected men in the business, compared Scott to Duke standout J.J. Reddick.
There is no doubt that Scott can score. The question is this: can he lead the Panthers to victories?
I believe the answer is yes.
Great players make everyone around them better, and my prediction is that is exactly what will happen with Scott leading Lakeside this season.
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